Augmented reality (AR) will feel like a foreign concept to the non-techie but if you’ve played, or at least heard of, Pokémon Go, then you have a slight idea what it is. As the representative from VR Philippines pointed out, it’s bringing the world of information to you. And that is what ASUS hopes to bring to users of the Zenfone AR, the first ever Tango-enabled and Daydream-ready smartphone. Tango? Daydream? What’s that? We’ll get into that in a bit.
First seen at CES 2017, the Zenfone AR brings both AR (via Google’s Tango program) and virtual reality or VR (via Daydream platform) into one powerful device. We got first look at the Zenfone AR last night as the Taiwanese company is set to launch the device during a hackathon event happening next week, specifically to create AR and VR apps for the smartphone. Here are my impressions of it.
At the moment, there is only one other Tango-enabled device out on the market and that’s the Lenovo Phab 2 Pro. In terms of this being a niche product, you can say it caters to a very specific kind of user. But tech enthusiasts will find something quite exciting about bringing both AR and VR capabilities in one device. The Phab 2 Pro, while first in the market, has had its share of issues. One being the device did feel a bit underpowered for the things it wanted to do. Plus, it was unwieldy. ASUS seems to have learned from Lenovo in the development of its own take on a Tango-ready handset.
While it’s still not the smallest of devices, the Zenfone AR features a 5.7-inch Super AMOLED display with 2K 2,560 x 1,440 resolution. And at 9mm, it isn’t that uneasy to hold the device. Of course, to use it properly you’d need both hands. But if you’re used to larger screened devices, this would be an okay experience for you.
In terms of power, the Zenfone AR is packed with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 chip, which is said to be optimized for Tango, 8GB of RAM (a first for a smartphone), and 128GB of storage. It’s definitely not lacking in power and we see that using the device. But sometimes it would buckle under the weight of the power-hungry AR apps. Generally, though, my first impression of it is it wasn’t as laggy as I thought it would be. It does get hot pretty fast so we’re not sure how quickly it’ll go through its 3,300mAh battery.
To bring its AR capabilities to life, ASUS equips the Zenfone AR with a TriCam system. At the back, you’ll see a motion tracking camera, depth sensing camera with IR projector, and a high-resolution 23-megapixel shooter. This system enables the phone to understand motion while it moves through an area, determine how far away or near it is to objects, walls, and the floor, and take note of the key visual features of a physical space.
We tried out some of the Tango apps and had some fun playing with Slingshot Island, a game that lets you put an island of sorts in the physical space and then have you trying to topple the castle in the middle of it.
Beyond the (rather limited) number of games and other fun apps available, ASUS was emphasizing last night that the capabilities of AR and VR extend beyond gaming or video consumption. The company says they’re embarking on an exploration of sorts with this device to bring it into the daily lives of users. For education purposes, it can be used to explain concepts. Apps like Dinosaurs Among Us bring 3D representations of dinosaurs into your space and iStaging lets you put furniture into the room without actually having to lug the physical piece in. It can be used for design and for medical purposes and even for sales. The possibilities are endless, they say.
What can hold it back though is the aforementioned limited number of apps currently available for the platform. And that is where ASUS is hoping to help out. The hackathon happening next week is one of the things they want to push to bring awareness to developers and aspiring developers that there is this platform and device to develop AR apps for, which in turn can entice end users to consider the device. They’re working with VR Philippines, DevCon Philippines, Game Developers Association of the Philippines, and Google Developer Group Philippines for the upcoming event. And they’ve expressed interest on working with them in the future as development of this kind will need time to mature. We’ve seen the big international internet companies talk about the push to AR and VR, but we also know the segments are still in their infancy. So we can’t say yet how much of an impact the Zenfone AR will have.
I have admittedly delved more on the AR side of the Zenfone AR but VR is also half of the equation for the Zenfone AR. The Daydream platform brings a higher quality, immersive VR experience to the smartphone. It requires a specific set of hardware, that’s why there are only a handful of devices that support it at the moment. Plus, you’ll need Google’s Daydream VR headset (or those upcoming standalone VR headsets) for it to work.
True enough, the lightweight VR headset is pretty easy and comfortable to use. And it works rather well with the Zenfone AR based on last night’s demo. But one of the main issues talked about last night is that the Daydream VR headset isn’t officially sold in the Philippines yet (ASUS won’t be bundling it with the headset). We’ll be at the ASUS’ event next week and hope to catch Google Philippines representatives there to get a word on whether there are plans to bring the headset here. Truthfully, if they don’t it’s going to be hard to sell the VR angle of the device to users here. The ASUS Zenfone AR retails for P44,995.